My name is Ivan Ivanovych Pryadka, the Pastor of The Ark Church in the town of Krasnohorivka, (Donetsk region) It is just outside of the war zone of Eastern Ukraine, located 7 kilometers from the city of Donetsk. I was born in Staromykhailovka village, Krasnohorivka district and at a young age became a believer in Christ. I got married and moved to live in Krasnohorivka and began ministry as a Pastor. It was a time of great spiritual hunger in the lives of people, who sensed the approaching collapse of the soviet system.
Since that time several other daughter churches have been planted because of the ministry of Arch Church. Now, many of these churches are in the occupied territory and are considered by DNR government as inadmissible/unrecognized and are closed. The churches are still existing, but the people cannot use their church buildings for meetings; instead they gather in home groups. Most of the buildings the DNR army uses for their own purposes as in Donetsk, Staromykhailivka and in Sakhanka, a town in the Mariupol district, in the occupied territory.
In the summer of 2014 the war forced people to leave Krasnohorivka. Right after the first shelling, when the Ukrainian Army freed Krasnohorivka, people started to leave the town in fear and panic. Some of the people were evacuated because of regular shelling’s; many left in panic, leaving all their belongings at home. People left everything they had and fled for their lives. All the shops were robbed, all goods in the homes began to decay – food, meat, vegetables, fruits everywhere, spoiled. The elderly, invalids, poor people who were left behind experienced great hunger and poverty.
Some people, who fled far away to Russia, never came back, but those, who stayed in the neighborhood, slowly began to return to their homes to pick up the most important things and documents. Some decided not to return. This was a very difficult time of survival for us.
It was at that time I felt led to move back and start to help. Together with my wife and two children and their families we returned to our home. Other family members did not move back. Out of 16,000 people, who used to live in Krasnohorivka before the war, less than 7,000 remained. The town became empty.
Life began to pulse again in the local church. Many people heard about our unfinished building of the church, which had started to minister again. People would come every day just to get warmed and to get some help, mainly food. Each day about 120 people came just to sit, talk to each other and wait for food. So, the church unfinished building became the place of meetings, where people would come and get warmed. They could come from the early morning and just talk and talk. We set up electrical outlets for people to charge their cell phones. Up to 20 - 30 people would come, sit on a bench outside or go home and leave their phone to be charged. No one stole anything. Everyone was traumatized by the war.
From the beginning, I started to bring food packages from Mariupol, pack them and give to the most needy people. Other people came together with me and later they decided to open a charitable soup kitchen. From December 2014 till the end of 2016 we used to feed people 7 days a week and people would come in 4 or 5 shifts. In December 2016 we saw it was difficult and stopped feeding people on Sundays.
People from all walks of life came to eat. Even those, who were in high positions in town, even teachers and doctors. So, it raised the credibility and respect for our church to its present time. Because of this, I was able to visit every home in town now.
The same assistance was needed for the only state school. Whoever attended school received food from the church, for the State did not support schools or pupils. Our church cooked and fed all these children at the school. Out of 5 state schools only one was open and children from the entire town would go there. Sadly, three schools were completely destroyed by the shelling.
On May 28th, one shell/rocket hit the church building and the same day another school was destroyed by rockets and burned to the ground. The State finally provided some financial support for rebuilding destroyed facilities, but the town experienced a lack of volunteers and even specialists, who would be willing to work. People became very passive and discouraged by the constant shelling, they did not have the heart to even repair their own property. Windows, walls broken by shelling, roofs damaged, and no money to repair them.
One Ukrainian school, the only school where pupils studied all subjects in Ukrainian was deliberately shelled. Most of the apartment buildings are 5 floors and remain without glass. Almost all of them have broken windows and there is no sense to install new glass as one explosion and the windows are destroyed again. So, we invited people, volunteers from different churches to put plastic instead of glass into the window frames.
The most difficult time was in winter; there was no gas, lack of coal or wood and no heating. Often electrical lines were cut in the shelling. We were looking for different heaters, which would help people to survive the cold. From a mission in Chernihiv we were able to get more than 100 heaters and gave to those who needed them. Also because of electricity being cut often, people needed simple candles. We managed to get candles and supplied them by thousands for the people.
At present, we are coordinating different people; volunteers from different churches, who are able to do reconstruction. There are many militaries in town only 1 kilometer from the front line. So, we use different people and help everyone we are able. Last year we initiated work in town – to cut the grass, take away garbage, rebuild, and repair.